Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Fisher King

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  Watchin' movies and bloggin' about them, because I launched my blog in 1999, darn it, and I'm going to keep providing content for it until the day I die!  Today we do The Fisher King.  This is originally in my notes at August 5, 2018.

I remember really wanting to see The Fisher King when it came out in 1991.  As I've blogged before, watching Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam when I was 10 was what inspired me to get into radio, and at that age, I was still all about Robin Williams.  So, of course, I wanted to go see the new Robin Williams movie.  Didn't get around to it to just a couple of months ago, when I saw that Amazon had the Criterion edition of The Fisher King on sale.  Much like picking up the Criterion of Ghost World, I looked at it and thought, "I want this."  So I got it. 

I've certainly read enough about the film over the years.  It comes to us from legendary director Terry Gilliam, he of such cult classics as Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  As the legend goes, after scrapping with the Hollywood studios over his big budget passion projects like Brazil, he was ready to do something smaller and low-key.  No special effects, and nothing at all resembling a Terry Gilliam film.  He was looking forward to be a "director for hire," a guy brought in to just shoot the script as written.  Which is kind of strange, because watching it, Gilliam's trademark visual flourishes dominate the film.  Again, according to the legends, Gilliam came up with the idea to have the scene in Grand Central Station turn into a grand waltz, but as soon as he said it, he tried to shut down saying, "That's too much of a 'Terry Gilliam film' idea."  But the producers loved it, ran with it, and it became one of the most celebrated scenes in the film. 

Firstly, I can't believe it's another Robin Williams film about radio and I'd never seen it.  But Williams isn't our radio superstar...it's Jeff Bridges, as Jack Lucas.  Jack is the #1 shock jock in New York City, known for his acerbic style and berating his callers.  He seems to have it all...big, fancy apartment, hot young girlfriend, and he's about to break into TV.  I watch these scenes, and I wonder if I'll ever be a radio announcer like that:  a big, private control room with my logo on the wall, an army of producers on the other side of the glass handling all the button-pushing and call screening.  And an agent.  Another sidebar:  since this was around the time that Howard Stern was making the jump from being the biggest thing in New York radio to being the biggest thing in radio period, I wonder if the character was meant to be based on Howard Stern?

Anyway, Jack clicks on the TV one night, and he's horrified.  Turns out of his regular callers that he berated decided to take Jack's words to heart and went on a shooting spree at a popular New York club.  We then jump forward three years.  Jack is now a drunk and despondent wreck, living in an abyss of self-pity and self-loathing because of his role in that mass shooting.  He lives with his more age-appropriate girlfriend Anne, above the video store that Anne owns and manages.  Jack occasionally works down there, too. 

But when we catch up with Jack, he's having a particularly rough night.  He's angrier than usual.  He gets drunker than usual.  And he heads off into the night with designs of killing himself.  Strangely, he's saved from killing himself by a couple of hoodlums who mistake him for a homeless man and attempt to beat him to death.  And that's where Jack is saved by Parry, a slightly crazed homeless man.  Jack winds up spending the nights on the streets with Parry, and wakes up in the basement where Parry rests his head.  Parry believes himself to be a knight on a holy quest to find the Holy Grail, and he believes that Jack as the One to help him.  Jack decides to bid a hasty exit and head for home. 

Jack runs into the building manager, though, and learns of Parry's backstory.  Parry used to be Henry Sagan, a history professor at a college and a rising star in academia.  Henry and his wife were having dinner at that club, when the gunman entered and killed Henry's wife before his eyes.  The trauma of the experience rendered Henry catatonic for a year, and when he came out of it, he had become Parry.  Needless to say, Jack feels responsible for Parry's condition, and sets out to help Parry, hoping that in doing so, he can find some redemption. 

After trying to pay off Parry, only for Parry to rebuff him, they spend the day on the streets together.  Here's where Jack discovers that Parry is infatuated with Lydia, an office worker in a faceless company, and Parry frequently spends his days watching her from afar.  Jack starts thinking that the best way to help out Parry would be to set him up with Lydia, and a plan begins to form. 

This is one of those films that seems designed from the top to the bottom to try to restore faith in humanity.  This really is about Jack's journey and learning how to open up and care for people, as his efforts to help Parry really open up his heart and make him a better boyfriend to Anne. 

Watching it, though, I can't help but feel how it is kind of dated.  After Parry and Lydia go on their date, Lydia, who is very shy and full of neurosis, is about to tank the whole thing out of fear of getting her heart broke.  But Parry confesses his love for Lydia, and reveals how he's been following her around and already knows her.  Which of course really got to me, because such a thing has been topping lists of "Things that are only romantic in movies."  Because, really, in real life, Lydia probably would have "noped" right out of there.  

I don't know, man.  Much like Ghost World, this is a film that I'd wanted to see for so long, and after watching it, I'm left going, "Huh."  That's not a bad thing.  It's just the kind of film that needs some time to digest.

No comments: